Homeowners to revisit drilling plan
RIFLE, Colo. Grass Mesa residents plan to meet Wednesday night in hopes of settling once and for all whether they want to accept $500,000 from an energy company in return for supporting its plan to speed up drilling in their subdivision.The homeowners association set the meeting after some residents challenged an earlier vote in favor of the idea, saying the vote isn’t legal.EnCana Oil & Gas (USA) hopes to dedicate two drilling rigs to the Grass Mesa area year-round, and complete its current drilling program there by 2010, two years earlier than planned. For it to do so, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management would have to lift a winter drilling restriction aimed at protecting important seasonal wildlife habitat. EnCana has proposed setting aside 8,000 acres near Grass Mesa as a temporary refuge for big game.The cash it is offering homeowners may amount to about $375,000 after taxes, and is expected to be used for road maintenance.Association manager Garland Anderson thinks residents may not approve it, possibly due to a lack of a quorum Wednesday, and that EnCana may pursue the project with the BLM anyway.”Homeowners had a shot at a half-million (dollars) before taxes and blew it,” he said.Resident Janice Zielinski said EnCana may indeed proceed with the idea regardless of residents’ desires, but that’s beside the point.”We don’t need to sell our souls to EnCana because it will wreck our way of living up here,” she said.EnCana spokesman Doug Hock on Monday repeated the company’s past assurances that it will pursue the idea only with residents’ support.”The ball is in their court. If they vote against this then we won’t do anything. … We won’t proceed with our condensed plan,” he said.Allen Crockett, a supervisory natural resource specialist with the BLM’s Glenwood Springs Energy Office, said that, theoretically, the BLM could approve a request by EnCana to lift the winter restrictions even without resident support, if the company offered adequate mitigation for wildlife impacts. But he said the residents’ input “would weigh very, very heavily” in any decision by the agency.”If the homeowners’ support was not there it’s unlikely we would approve it, but we can’t say for sure,” he said.The BLM also has said it would allow the change only if the Colorado Division of Wildlife supported it. The DOW has voiced interest in pursuing the idea if residents are behind it.Grass Mesa, south of Rifle, consists of about 3,000 acres. It has 77 parcels averaging about 40 acres in size. More than 45 families live there.The underlying federal minerals were leased by the BLM to EnCana, which has drilled more than 120 wells there so far. It plans to drill 62 additional wells, and has contingency plans for 12 more.Zielinski said a homeowners association letter about the August ballot was biased in favor of the EnCana plan. Anderson said while it was presented as a vote, in reality it was meant to be something else.”It was more like a poll if you will. It probably shouldn’t have been called a vote,” he said.Wednesday’s vote will follow state rules applying to homeowners associations, he said. Residents will meet at 7 p.m. at the Garfield County Fairgrounds.One reason Anderson favors EnCana’s proposal is that it could result in the drilling ending sooner, along with the accompanying impacts on residents. But Zielinski isn’t convinced EnCana will complete its drilling as quickly as it is proposing to do.EnCana has said that it can’t guarantee that its accelerated drilling schedule wouldn’t change, due to the possibility of encountering unforeseen drilling challenges. It also has indicated it plans to do exploratory drilling in deeper geological formations next year and could return to do more drilling in those formations later.The accelerated drilling program would save EnCana the cost of moving rigs and help it get gas into production faster.
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Cam Daniel is a former youth addiction counselor who’s been a Pitkin County sheriff’s deputy for three years.